The colours are organised on the canvas so that the eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift. Vision can be arrested, tripped up or pulled back in order to float free again … One moment there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas suddenly seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events.
Riley’s engagement with the lozenge form lasted until 1997. In those paintings she created what she has described as ‘a kind of place’: a virtual space, defined entirely in terms of form and colour. The imperative to develop the rhythmic vitality of that space has driven Riley’s art from 1997 to the present and can be seen in the recent paintings in this room.
In these works, Riley continued to use an underlying grid structure of verticals and diagonals. This provided the framework within which curved shapes could be positioned and blocked out as large areas of colour. Rêve 1999 was the first fully-realised curve painting. Immediately apparent is the break with the vertical register: the curves move freely and discursively. Also striking is the new, grand scale which Riley began to employ, an innovation that reaches its fullest realisation in a new painting, Evoë 3 2003. The geometric world of the lozenge form has led to another kind of place: a world of sinuous, winding movement in which expanded areas of contrasted colour flicker and dance. In this respect, the curve paintings also move towards nature, but nature in which there now resonates a living, moving presence. It is as if, in the absence of depiction, colour and shape have found a new, surprising synthesis, and movement itself has been distilled to its pure, disembodied essence.
It is significant that these recent paintings should so vividly convey a sense of life, of élan, for at a fundamental level this has been the underlying theme of Riley’s work from the outset. In her own words: ‘An artist feels a need “a need to do something” about the very fact of being alive, rather like a bird feels the need to sing.’